Friday, May 30, 2014

The inevitable tail of the delayed book

I should have known this would happen. I just should have known. Curse me for a worse than senseless fool.

"I will write the story," she said. "You just write the prologue and the epilogue, and I will do the rest. Everyone will love it! It will be a delightful change of pace, and you can take the month off and concentrate on future stories."

The idea was so tempting. I had been devoting all of my spare time to writing Myke Phoenix stories all year. What could possibly go wrong?

The time came for her to deliver her chapters so that we could get on with publishing the book.

"Where is the story, puppy?" I asked with an eager smile. She returned my eager smile with an eager smile. And she sat there panting like, well, like a dog.

The expression on her face was loving and happy and – and blank. Whatever spark of intelligence was there had been replaced by plain old dogness. Well, nothing is plain or old about this dog, but it became painfully clear that she was not going to deliver the goods as she promised.

All was not lost. Just the deadline. She left her partially completed manuscript, and she did tell me the whole sordid and unbelievable story. I should be able to piece it all together and recreate what she was going to create in a matter, if not days, of weeks, and you will be able to read the astonishing tail – err, tale – by the end of June. Just not June 2.

I can, at least, share the cover with you. Pretty cool, huh?

She is a nice dog. At least she's trying to be. It's hard to be a puppy, because there's so much to learn. And when you are distracted by bad dreams that turn out to be fading memories of your past life, a life that ended prematurely because you were murdered – well, being a puppy is that much more complicated.

Watch for the next installment in my Myke Phoenix dodecalogy when you least expect it, certainly sometime between now and the end of June. After all, I have another installment due in July ... and another in August ... and ... oh dear.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Be a gardener

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there. 

“It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The good, the bad and the puppy

She brought me my slippers. OK, she brought one of my slippers into the room and dropped it about 10 feet from where I was sitting. All right, a few minutes later she brought the other slipper and dropped it about 8 feet over in the other direction.

Close enough. At least she didn’t chew them to shreds. That’s progress.

Dejah, named after a Martian princess, has so far lived up to her name as some kind of alien beast. At 9 months, she is already the same size as her 5-year-old housemate, Willow, and twice the handful.

• The good: The summer season came so soon after the end of winter this year, it almost came as a surprise. It seemed like one week it was 35 degrees, and the next week the highways were filled with visitors. Oh wait, that’s exactly what happened.

Driving to our Southern Door home as the Memorial Day crowd drove north Friday, I noticed more bass boats than ever coming to town. The secret’s out, now that Bassmaster magazine has placed the area on top of its list of the 100 Best Bass Lakes.

• The bad: We spent the three-day weekend puttering around the yard, moving dirt, pulling weeds, and still didn’t get seeds in the garden. Most years by the first of June, it’s almost time to start consuming fresh radishes. That was one brutal winter.

• The puppy: The early and late winter meant from the age of 2 months to 8 months, cabin fever was a fact of life for this young and rambunctious thing. One guy at puppy class said he’ll never again bring a new dog into the house in the fall. Seconded!

• The good: What winter? At the beginning of the weekend some of the trees were still in no apparent hurry to grow leaves this year. As of Tuesday morning we have a canopy.

• The bad: We stay in Wisconsin because of the four seasons. Four! When it’s 35 degrees at the end of April and 80-something at the end of May, the old body hasn’t had time to adjust. I think I have a couple of toes that are still thawing out while my brain is overheating.

• The puppy: The fastest my heart raced this weekend was when I closed the garden gate and then let the dogs out to run in the yard. In my heat-induced stupor Monday afternoon, I forgot we have two gates to the back yard. Dejah was halfway to Illinois before I realized the other gate was open.

Fortunately, Red is one smart cookie. She sent Willow to chase after both of us. The big sister ran a circle around the younger one, who got into the game and chased her. The two of them were back in the house long before I limped breathlessly into the yard and closed the other gate.

• The good: Over the years they’ve made about 30 movies about the giant monster known in America as Godzilla. Only two of them qualify as anything more than guilty pleasures: the first one in 1954 (the original, not the U.S. mix with Raymond Burr) and the one that’s currently in the theaters. My, oh, my.

• The bad: Spurred by the Robert Redford Oscar nomination, we sat down to watch the one-man show “All is Lost” over the weekend. It’s a great performance if you enjoy watching a character you barely know slowly drown for two hours that you will never get back. The title gives away the ending.

• The good: We’ve reached that time of year where so much stuff is happening in Door County, there’s no need to turn on the TV anyway.

• The bad: How do you choose? How do you choose? There are so many wonderful choices!

• I turned around to see what Dejah was chewing while I wrote this column and found her surrounded by piles and piles of stuffing she had removed from a plush toy. Yep, it’s a puppy.

From the Door County Advocate, May 28, 2014

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The real 'Penny Lane'

When the Beatles came out with a new song, it was a happening. When "Penny Lane" came out, it was a revelation. This little story song was an amazing piece of music, from the way they launched right into the vocal without introduction to the lilting piccolo trumpet wafting over the feedback after the final chord.

But something, um, very strange happened after a couple of weeks. Someone edited out the lilting piccolo trumpet wafting over the feedback after the final chord. It was like giving the Mona Lisa a haircut.

When the song came over the radio, instead of those perfect final seven notes, the song ended with a piano crash and the inevitable feedback, but the trumpet player no longer chimed in. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. When I bought the single, some of the labels said 2:57 and some of them said 3:00. I bought one that said 3:00 figuring the trumpet conclusion must run three seconds. But it was the wrong version. No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

So powerful was the original ending that I took to humming the trumpet part when the song ended. Thirteen long years I heard those phantom notes in my mind when I heard the song.

Then, in 1980, they came out with an album called "Beatles Rarities," and the long nightmare ended. The real "Penny Lane" was available again.

I've never understood why they decided to truncate the original version. Maybe they thought the feedback was cool and they wanted to emphasize it. But for darn near a half-century now, this is the only version of "Penny Lane" I can tolerate.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

I drive me crazy

I went looking for an old folder in the basement boxes the other day, and I found a note to myself that looked very familiar.

It had a plan to get out of debt by a certain date. It had a goal to write a certain amount of creative content every day. It had a list of stuff that needed to be done around the house. It had a target weight goal. And it had a strong exhortation: “DO THIS!”

Except for the specific details, I could have written the note yesterday.

The date on the note was October 1989.

Today, I’m not out of debt, I still have goals for creative content and household contributions, and I still from time to time slap myself upside the head and say “WHY AREN’T YOU DOING THIS?”

I’m no slouch. I meet content goals every day at the day job, and nobody has to kick me in the ass to get that stuff done, not even myself. But the personal stuff? The dream of making a living with my creativity? The desire to be a better mate? Doing something about the extra chin and the beer belly? So reliable, I am not. (A belated little nod to Star Wars Day, there.)

That’s why I went into full panic mode a month ago when it looked like I was going to miss deadline on The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur. For at least a quarter century I have hectored myself to take my dreams and personal life more seriously. And lately I finally feel like a grownup because so far I’ve met the goal I set at the beginning of the year – write a 10,000 word Myke Phoenix story and release it on the first Monday of the month – and I like feeling like a grownup.

(Well, OK, I acknowledge I prefer feeling like a big kid, but grownups have to fulfill their commitments, not only to others but to themselves.)

So releasing the talking dinosaur story on April 7 was a big deal, and I was pleased with myself that I released another story a little more quietly on May 5, and I’m excited about my plans for June 2.

I think I’m not the only guy who ever let the quotidian of everyday life get in the way of his hopes and desires. So I feel like maybe if I keep making this monthly deadline, I can be an example you can pin your hopes on, too: If the guy with the 50-60 hour a week editor’s job can carve out time to write his version of the Great American Novel, maybe you can, too. So I have to make that goal so I don’t let you down, either. 

It’s easy to be the brand I’ve earned over the years – the guy who promises a sequel to his novel or a weekly podcast, gets started and then peters out. Time for a new brand, the author of the monthly Myke Phoenix adventures, and maybe some other stuff down the pike.

I don’t care if the ebooks don’t sell and I make 5 bucks a quarter in royalties, because that’s not the point at this stage. If you want to try out the stories, I sure won’t object. But as a wiser kid than I once said, the journey is the reward, and my joy for now is in staying on the path.

Monday, May 5, 2014

It's he-ere: The Second Warrior

a k a Myke Phoenix #7, the latest in my current dodecalogy. Slowly but surely behind the scenes, the plot is thickening.

Load up your Kindle here.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Coming Monday: The Second Warrior (Myke Phoenix #7)

Available Monday at Amazon and Kobo, the latest in this year's Myke Phoenix dodecalogy. A brief excerpt:

“And what are you, then, telling me all this?”
“I am the Second Soulkeeper, and you shall be the Second Warrior, fighting side by side with Myke Phoenix.”
“Mychus had a powerful ally named Coronius. All these years while Mychus has walked the Earth again, the powers that formed this miracle have been preparing the second ancient for this moment, the moment when evil in the world is becoming palpable and a worthy holder is needed to bear Coronius’ standard.”

Read the rest of the excerpt here.